The defense is not doing enough to commit suicide, according to the Australian Chief of Defense, who has told the Royal Commission on Defense and Veterans Suicide that the ADF has inconsistent data on such deaths among its members.
- The investigation heard about inconsistencies in the way defense and veteran suicides were recorded and reported to the ADF
- General Campbell told the commission that he was made aware of veteran suicide in an “ad hoc and inconsistent” way
- The Commission also heard that there were conflicting data on the number of permanent ADF members who had died by suicide since 2000
The Royal Commission, which is holding hearings in Townsville this week, has so far heard from the head of the 3rd Brigade and two former ministers.
The Chief of the Defense Forces, General Angus Campbell, testified at the inquest today.
General Campbell admitted that the defense “did not get it right” when it came to suicide.
“The defense does a lot, but as with many endeavors, there is more to do.”
General Campbell said culture, privacy, information and support were key areas in need of improvement.
“I think it’s a system that we’re in the right direction to create,” he said.
“We do not have time to realize the perfect.
“We try to get to a hopeful best place, but in doing so we use every opportunity to implement and apply as we go.
“We are not getting it right and there is a lot of work to be done.”
The Commission heard that there were “significant shortcomings” in the defense’s ability to obtain data on suicide in the veterans’ community.
In his written statement, General Campbell said he became aware of suicide among the veteran community through “ad hoc and inconsistent mechanisms”.
“There is no counseling process that consistently and exhaustively informs the defense of the death of a former ADF member by suicide,” General Campbell wrote.
General Campbell told the inquiry that it would be “very helpful” if police and state and territory forensic pathologists could work with the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide this information.
But General Campbell was intensely asked why he had not already made such an effort.
Lawyer assisting Kevin Connor SC asked, “Have you ever taken steps to identify on the forensic medical report to the person as to whether the person is a defense attorney or a former defense attorney?”
“I have not … and that’s something we can do,” General Campbell replied.
Sir. Connor said the defense chief could improve such reporting “within a few weeks, depending on their position”.
“I would like that, and I think they probably would too,” said General Campbell.
In some cases, General Campbell said the defense was not alerted to veteran suicide “at all.”
“If a person refuses to engage with ESOs (former service organizations) and is not registered with the Department of Veterans Affairs, then it will be an awareness after the event, if at all, at this stage,” he said.
The Commission also heard that there were conflicting data on the number of permanent ADF members who had died by suicide since 2000.
The Armed Forces’ suicide register indicated that there had been 159, while the consolidated register of suspected and confirmed suicides indicated that there had been 178.
The head of the Defense Forces said the irregularity was due to inconsistencies in the way data on suicide deaths were recorded.
“This is an area that needs to be improved by the defense,” General Campbell said.
The inquiry heard that General Campbell intended to raise the issue with the new federal government.
Suicidal thoughts ‘very serious problem’
The query was shown data for the number of ADF members who had attempted suicide since January 2015 and had approached the Armed Forces for care.
“You can see the rate is about four or more times the number of deaths per suicide each year,” Mr Connor said.
Twenty-two ADF members had reportedly attempted suicide and sought care with the defense during 2022.
A 2015 survey of copied ADF members and ADF members in the transition showed that 8.8 percent of copied ADF members had suicidal thoughts within the past 12 months.
Mr. Connor said to General Campbell, “It must be taken up, right?”
“I suggest you that the Armed Forces has been a little slow in responding to this. Do you reject it?” asked Mr. Connor.
General Campbell described it as an “extremely complex challenge”.
“There is a lot of effort going on, but more is needed,” he said.
“Where cultural issues are at stake, these things can take a number of years.
“I am aware that we do not have a number of years. It is a very, very serious problem.”
Based on the same data, the commission heard that of the people who had switched from ADF from 2010-15, 28.9 percent had felt that life was not worth living within the last 12 months, with 21.2 percent felt so low that they thought of. suicide attempt within 12 months.
“This is a very good indicator of the transition effect that we do not want,” General Campbell said.
General Campbell will end his term in office next month.
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